A Pastoral Message of the U.S. Catholic Bishops - 1994
Our families are torn by violence. Our communities are destroyed by
violence. Our faith is tested by violence. We have an obligation to
Violence -- in our homes, our schools and streets, our nation and world
-- is destroying the lives, dignity and hopes of millions of our
sisters and brothers. Fear of violence is paralyzing and polarizing our
communities. The celebration of violence in much of our media, music
and even video games is poisoning our children.
Beyond the violence in our streets is the violence in our hearts.
Hostility, hatred, despair and indifference are at the heart of a
growing culture of violence. Verbal violence in our families,
communications and talk shows contribute to this culture of violence.
Pornography assaults the dignity of women and contributes to violence
against them. Our social fabric is being torn apart by a culture of
violence that leaves children dead on our streets and families afraid in
our homes. Our society seems to be growing numb to human loss and
suffering. A nation born in a commitment to "life, liberty and the
pursuit of happiness" is haunted by death, imprisoned by fear and caught
up in the elusive pursuit of protection rather than happiness. A world
moving beyond the Cold War is caught up in bloody ethnic, tribal and
It doesn't have to be this way. It wasn't always this way. We can
turn away from violence; we can build communities of greater peace. It
begins with a clear conviction: respect for life. Respect for life is
not just a slogan or a program; it is a fundamental moral principle
flowing from our teaching on the dignity of the human person. It is an
approach to life that values people over things. Respect for life must
guide the choices we make as individuals and as a society: what we do
and won't do, what we value and consume, whom we admire and whose
example we follow, what we support and what we oppose. Respect for
human life is the starting point for confronting a culture of violence.
The Catholic community cannot ignore the moral and human costs of so
much violence in our midst. These brief reflections are a call to
conversion and a framework for action. They propose neither a sweeping
plan nor specific programs. They recognize the impressive efforts
already underway in dioceses, parishes and schools. They offer a word
of support and gratitude for those already engaged in these efforts. We
believe the Catholic community brings strong convictions and vital
experience which can enrich the national dialogue on how best to
overcome the violence that is tearing our nation apart.
We know these reflections are not enough. Words cannot stop weapons;
statements will not contain hatred. Yet commitment and conversion can
change us and together we can change our culture and communities.
Person by person, family by family, neighborhood by neighborhood, we
must take our communities back from the evil and fear that come with so
much violence. We believe our faith in Jesus Christ gives us the
values, vision and hope that can bring an important measure of peace to
our hearts, our homes, and our streets.
A Culture of Violence
Decades ago, the Kerner Commission called violence "as American as apple pie."1
Sadly, this provocative statement has proved prophetic. No nation on
earth, except those in the midst of war, has as much violent behavior as
we do -- in our homes, on our televisions, and in our streets:
- While crime statistics vary year to year, we
face far higher rates of murder, assault, rape and other violent crimes
than other societies. One estimate is that crime costs us $674 billion a
year. Violent crime quadrupled from 161 reported crimes per 100,000 in
1960 to 758 in 1992.2
- The most violent place in America is not in our streets, but in
our homes. More than 50 percent of the women murdered in the United
States are killed by their partner or ex-partner. Millions of children
are victims of family violence.3
- The number of guns has also quadrupled from 54 million in 1950
to 201 million in 1990. Between 1979 and 1991, nearly 50,000 American
children and teenagers were killed by guns, matching the number of
Americans who died in battle in Vietnam. It is now estimated 13
American children die every day from guns. Gunshots cause one out of
four deaths among American teenagers.4
- Our entertainment media too often exaggerate and even celebrate
violence. Children see 8,000 murders and 100,000 other acts of
violence on television before they leave elementary school.5
- We must never forget that the violence of abortion has destroyed more than 30 million unborn children since 1972.6
Behind these numbers are individual human tragedies, lives lost, families destroyed, children without real hope.
Violence in our culture is fed by multiple forces -- the disintegration
of family life, media influences, growing substance abuse, the
availability of so many weapons, and the rise of gangs and increasing
youth violence. No one response can address these diverse sources.
Traditional liberal or conservative approaches cannot effectively
confront them. We have to address simultaneously declining family life
and the increasing availability of deadly weapons, the lure of gangs and
the slavery of addiction, the absence of real opportunity, budget cuts
adversely affecting the poor, and the loss of moral values.
While many communities are touched by crime and the fear that comes
with it, violence especially ravages poor communities. Young people are
particularly threatened by violence. In some communities, teens talk
of "if" they grow up, instead of "when" they grow up, planning their
funerals instead of their futures. Between 1985 and 1992 the annual
number of youths killed by gunsns grew from 2,500 to 5,326.7
Increasingly, our society looks to violent measures to deal with some
of our most difficult social problems -- millions of abortions to
address problem pregnancies, advocacy of euthanasia and assisted suicide
to cope with the burdens of age and illness, and increased reliance on
the death penalty to deal with crime. We are tragically turning to
violence in the search for quick and easy answers to complex human
problems. A society which destroys its children, abandons its old and
relies on vengeance fails fundamental moral tests. Violence is not the
solution; it is the most clear sign of our failures. We are losing our
respect for human life. How do we teach the young to curb their
violence when we embrace it as the solution to social problems?
We cannot teach that killing is wrong by killing. We have reached the
point in one very visible case where a jury has urged the execution of
the person who murdered the physician who was destroying unborn
children. This cycle of violence diminishes all of us -- especially our
children. For our part, we oppose both the violence of abortion and
the use of violence to oppose abortion. We are clear in our total
repudiation of any effort to advocate or carry out murder in the name of
the pro-life cause. Such acts cannot be justified. They deny the
fundamental value of each human life, and do irreparable harm to genuine
pro-life witness. Just as clearly, a nation destroying more than one
and a half million unborn children every year contributes to the
pervasive culture of violence in our nation. We must affirm and protect
all life, especially the most vulnerable in our midst.
Likewise, we cannot ignore the underlying cultural values that help to
create the environment where violence grows: a denial of right and
wrong, education that ignores fundamental values, an abandonment of
personal responsibility, an excessive and selfish focus on our
individual desires, a diminishing sense of obligation to our children
and neighbors, a misplaced priority on acquisitions, and media
glorification of violence and sexual irresponsibility. In short, we
often fail to value life and cherish human beings above possessions,
power and pleasure.
Less obvious and less visible is the slow motion violence of
discrimination and poverty, hunger and hopelessness, addiction and
self-destructive behavior. The deterioration of family life and the
loss of community leave too many without moral direction and personal
roots. Grinding poverty and powerlessness leave too many without a
stake in society and a place in our community. Economic, social and
moral forces can tear apart communities and families not as quickly, but
just as surely, as bullets and knives. Lives sometimes are diminished
and threatened not only in the streets of our cities, but also by
decisions made in the halls of government, the boardrooms of
corporations and the courts of our land. An ethic of respect for life
should be a central measure of all our institutions -- community,
economic, political, and legal.
This growing culture of violence reflected in some aspects of our
public life and entertainment media must be confronted. But it is not
just our policies and programming that must change; it is our hearts.
We must condemn not only the killing, but also the abuse in our homes,
the anger in our hearts and the glorification of violence in movies and
music. It is time, in the words of Deuteronomy (30:19), to "Choose life
so that you and your descendants may live ..." We must join with Pope
John Paul II to "proclaim, with all the conviction of my faith in
Christ and with an awareness of my mission, that violence is evil, that
violence is unacceptable as a solution to problems, that violence is
unworthy... Violence is a lie, for it goes against the truth of our
faith, the truth of our humanity."
Around the globe, we are seeing the promises of a new world lost in
deadly conflict and renewed war. In Bosnia, Rwanda, Haiti, Sudan and so
many other places, the world too often has watched as sisters and
brothers were killed because of their religion, race, tribe or political
position. The post-Cold War world has become a tumult of savage
attacks on the innocent. Unprepared for this disorder and confused
about what to do to resolve ancient rivalries, the international
community has too often stood by indecisively as hundreds of thousands
of men, women and children have been slaughtered and millions more have
been maimed, raped and driven from their homes. Peacekeeping and
peacemaking are the most urgent priorities for a new world.
Not all violence is deadly. It begins with anger, intolerance,
impatience, unfair judgements and aggression. It is often reflected in
our language, our entertainment, our driving, our competitive behavior,
and the way we treat our environment. These acts and attitudes are not
the same as abusive behavior or physical attacks, but they create a
climate where violence prospers and peace suffers. We are also
experiencing the polarization of public life and militarization of
politics with increased reliance on "attack" ads, "war" rooms and
intense partisan combat in place of the search for the common good and
Fundamentally, our society needs a moral revolution to replace a
culture of violence with a renewed ethic of justice, responsibility and
community. New policies and programs, while necessary, cannot
substitute for a recovery of the old values of right and wrong, respect
and responsibility, love and justice. God's wisdom, love and
commandments can show us the way to live, heal and reconcile. "Thou
shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal" are more than words to be recited;
they are imperatives for the common good. Our faith challenges each of
us to examine how we can contribute to an ethic which cherishes life,
puts people before things, and values kindness and compassion over anger
and vengeance. A growing sense of national fear and failure must be
replaced by a new commitment to solidarity and the common good.
Catholic Tradition, Presence and Potential
In this task, the Catholic community has much at stake and much to
contribute. What we believe, where we are, and how we live out our
faith can make a great difference in the struggle against violence. We
see the loss of lives. We serve the victims. We feel the fear. We must
confront this growing culture of violence with a commitment to life, a
vision of hope and a call to action. Our assets in this challenge
- the example and teaching of Jesus Christ;
- the biblical values of respect for life, peace, justice, and community;
- our teaching on human life and human dignity, on right and wrong, on family and work, on justice and peace, on rights and responsibilities;
- our tradition of prayer, sacraments, and contemplation which can lead to a disarmament of the heart;
- a commitment to marriage and family life, to support responsible parenthood and to help parents in providing their children the values to live full lives;
- a presence in most neighborhoods -- our parishes and
schools, hospitals and social services are sources of life and hope in
places of violence and fear;
- an ethical framework which calls us to practice and
promote virtue, responsibility, forgiveness, generosity, concern for
others, social justice and economic fairness;
- a capacity for advocacy that cuts across the false
choices in national debate -- jails or jobs, personal or social
responsibility, better values or better policies;
- a consistent ethic of life which remains the surest foundation for our life together.
Across our land, parishioners and priests, men and women religious,
educators and social workers, parents and community leaders are hard at
work trying to offer hope in place of fear, to fight violence with
programs of peace, to strengthen families and weaken gangs.
Here are a few examples of ongoing efforts in dioceses and parishes to deal with violence in their communities:
- In Los Angeles, the Church through its "Hope in
Youth" initiative works with others to combat gang violence with youth
opportunities and economic development.
- In Boston, the Ten Point Coalition is an ecumenical group of
clergy and lay leaders working to mobilize the Christian community
around issues affecting African American youth -- especially those at
- The Diocese of Cleveland coordinated an interfaith, gun turn-in program that took more than 1500 weapons off the streets.
- In Chicago, youth outreach efforts include conflict management;
workshops on violence, drugs and health; and positive alternatives to
violence. A business training program called "Something Good for the
Hood," was created by St. Sabina's parish to teach youth and young
adults responsibility and work skills.
- In Saginaw, the Office of Black Catholic Concerns uses a
multi-media approach, marches, TV, radio, PSA's, with gang members to
help them refocus their lives and reconnect with Church and community.
- The Toledo diocese, in cooperation with the local YMCA,
involves elementary schools in "conflict resolution and peer mediation"
to heighten the awareness of the root causes of violence and address
- The dioceses of Palm Beach and Billings offered the program, Building a Sacred Bridge of Reconciliation
which challenges traditional attitudes about women that contribute to
domestic abuse. The program is sponsored by the National Council of
- Catholic parishes joined in the Greater Bridgeport Interfaith
Action, which successfully passed a ban on assault weapons later upheld
by the courts.
- In Phoenix, the social action office has made available to
parents suggestions for responsible TV viewing and ways to approach
local stations regarding anti-violence themes.
- Jackson, Mississippi Catholic Charities sponsors a shelter for
battered families which serves 350 women and children each year from
seven rural counties providing transitional housing, legal assistance,
and individual and group counseling.
- Little Friends for Peace, in the Washington, D.C. area, is an
organization dedicated to teaching non-violent skills to young children
through playful skill-building activities.
- The diocese of Pittsburgh has joined a community-wide program
for young people at risk providing viable alternatives to gangs through
educational, recreational and employment opportunities.
In parishes and schools, human service agencies, and family life and
youth programs, our community of faith offers alternatives to violence, a
commitment to education, and a source of hope and help in places of
fear and failure. Now is the time for all of us to follow their
leadership, to build on their example, to place our facilities at the
service of the community. Our young people, especially, need support
and challenge, discipline and opportunities to use their talents and
carry out their responsibilities in a world of conflicting values and
often dangerous choices.
A Framework for Action
Much is being done, but more is required. Our community is called to
reorganize our priorities and recommit our resources to confront the
violence in our midst. This challenge will have many dimensions
- the call to pray for peace in our hearts and our world;the ability to listen -- to hear the pain, anger and frustration that comes with and from violence;
- the duty to examine our own attitudes and actions for how they contribute to or diminish violence in our society;
- the call to help people confront the violence in our hearts and lives;
- the capacity to build on existing efforts and the strengths of our community: the work of parishes, schools, Catholic Charities and Campaign for Human Development, etc.;
- efforts to hold major institutions accountable, including government, the media and the criminal justice system;
- an advocacy strategy which moves beyond the often empty rhetoric of national debate, including:
- confronting the violence of abortion;
- curbing the easy availability of deadly weapons;
- supporting community approaches to crime prevention and law enforcement, including community policing, neighborhood partnerships with police and greater citizen involvement;
- pursuing swift and effective justice without vengeance;
- support for efforts to attack root causes of crime and violence -- including poverty, substance abuse, lack of opportunity, racism, and family disintegration;
- promoting more personal responsibility and broader social responsibility in our policies and programs;
- building bridges and promoting solidarity across racial and economic lines;
- pursuing economic justice, especially employment;
- working for legislation that empowers parents to choose and afford schools that reflect their values;
- overcoming the tragedy of family violence and confronting all forms of violence against women;
- promoting education, research, and training in nonviolence;
- respond to victims of violence, hearing their anguish and defending their dignity;
- strengthening families by putting the needs of children and families first in our national priorities;
- continuing to work for global disarmament, including curbs on arms sales, and a ban on the export of land mines.
Unless we are able to cut through divisive rhetoric and false claims
which suggest that more prisons are the only answer, more brutality the
cure, or more violence the solution, we will not succeed. Our criminal
justice system is failing. Too often, it does not offer security to
society, just penalties and rehabilitation to offenders, or respect and
restitution to victims. Clearly, those who commit crimes must be
swiftly apprehended, justly tried, appropriately punished, and held to
proper restitution. However, correctional facilities must do more than
confine criminals; they must rehabilitate persons and help rebuild
lives. The vast majority of those in prison return to society. We must
insure that incarceration does not simply warehouse those who commit
crimes, but helps them overcome the behaviors, attitudes and actions
which led to criminal activity. The answer is not simply constructing
more and more prisons, but also constructing a society where every
person has the opportunity to participate in economic and social life
with dignity and responsibility. People must answer for their actions.
Those who harm others must pay the price, but all our institutions must
also be held accountable for how they promote or undermine greater
responsibility and justice.
Bumper sticker solutions -- "three strikes and you're out". . ."two
years and you're off". . ."one more child and your benefits are cut" --
are no substitute for less appealing, but more effective efforts to
fight crime and strengthen families. Our nation needs to focus its
energies and resources on helping communities combat crime and helping
families overcome destructive moral and economic pressures,
discrimination and dependency. Our policies must help people escape
poverty and discrimination and leave behind lives of addiction,
self-destruction and crime. We need both to hold people accountable and
offer them concrete help and hope for a better future.
We also need to encourage a commitment to civility and respect in
public life and communications -- in the news media, politics and even
ecclesial dialogue. The search for the common good is not advanced by
partisan gamesmanship, challenging other people's motives, or personal
attacks. The focus on the sensational, the search for conflict, and the
assumption of bad will are not the basis for dialogue, and hurt the
search for common ground.
The culture of violence also has world-wide dimensions. As the only
world super power, as the world's greatest consumer, and as the largest
arms exporter, the United States has a special obligation to seek peace
and promote justice through creative and responsible world leadership.
We renew our commitment expressed in The Harvest of Justice is Sown in Peace
to work against the violence which threatens life in so many lands.
Our nation must be engaged in devising new tools for preserving the
peace, finding ways to prevent and police conflicts, to protect basic
rights, to promote integral human development and to preserve the
environment. The United States must move from leadership in supplying
arms to leadership in providing resources, technology and knowledge and
for replacing conflict with peaceful progress. Rather than restrain the
further development of the United Nations, the United States should
help improve it by developing tools for preventing conflict, mediating
disputes, and rescuing vulnerable populations from internal as well as
external aggression. Catholic international education, outreach, and
advocacy efforts need to continue to help shape a Church and nation more
clearly committed to global responsibility and the pursuit of peace in a
still violent world.
Perhaps the greatest challenge is the call for all of us to examine our
own lives, to identify how we can choose generosity over selfishness,
and choose a real commitment to family and community over individual
acquisition and ambition. In many small ways, each of us can help
overcome violence by dealing with it on our block; providing for the
emotional, physical and spiritual needs of our children; dealing with
our own abusive behavior; or, even treating fellow motorists with
courtesy. Violence is overcome day by day, choice by choice, person by
person. All of us must make a contribution.
We believe our ongoing Catholic Campaign for Children and Families
is an important voice against violence and should focus with new
priority and renewed urgency on how violence of every kind undermines
the lives and dignity of families and children. As we carry this
campaign forward, we will work for private action and public policy
which helps curb the violence in our land. Above all, the Church must
be Church -- a community of faith reaching out to affirm and protect
life, teaching right from wrong, educating the young, serving the
hurting, healing the wounds, building community, praying and working for
We Can Be More Than We Are
The Catholic community is in a position to respond to violence and the
threat of violence in our society with new commitment and creativity.
More of the same is not sufficient. Business as usual is not enough.
Our faith and facilities can be beacons of hope and safety for those
seeking refuge from violent streets and abusive homes. People can
become peacemakers in their homes and communities. Parishes can
organize mentoring programs for teen parents. The Church can be the
first point of referral for spousal abuse. We can incorporate ways to
handle family conflict in our religious education and sacramental
preparation programs. We can work for public policies that confront
violence, build community and promote responsibility. Finally, we can
join with other churches in developing a community wide strategy for
making our neighborhoods more safe, welcoming and peaceful. Here is a
possible outline for action:
Worship and Preaching: Parishes can invite parishioners to begin
meetings and events with prayers for peace and an end to violence. The
Sunday eucharistic celebration provides many opportunities for prayer
and reflection on these themes, especially during Penitential Rite and
the General Intercessions. The homily can be a powerful means of
promoting the Scriptural call to peacemaking and to deepen our own
relationship with Jesus, the source of true peace. The priest, adding a
few words of his own as introduction, may wish to reinforce the
significance of the Rite of Peace. Special Penance Services can be
held, especially during Advent and Lent, to call us away from aggressive
and violent behavior to that of peacemaking. We ask our preachers to
consider how their preaching can be a call to peacemaking and a voice
against violence in our families, neighborhoods and the broader
Education: Our Catholic schools are a very significant bulwark
against violence. They continue to offer moral and ethical foundations,
discipline and safety for millions of children. Schools can encourage
dialogue between parents and youth, can teach basic values and conflict
resolution, and can provide after school programs (especially between
the hours of 4:00 and 7:00 pm) for neighborhood youth. Just as clearly,
our parish religious education programs can provide the values and
support that can help people, especially young people, choose life and
reject violence. Our schools and parish religious education programs
can be vital safe havens for youth at risk.
Young Adult and Adult Education Programs in parishes can provide
classes and learning experiences in parenting, conflict resolution and
spiritual development. Small group faith-sharing can provide
opportunities for adults to share their experiences and learn from
others. We can form our consciences, strengthen our commitment, and
exercise our free will in ways that promote justice and resist violence.
Family Ministry: The family is the key to the development of
positive values, including peacemaking. Families need to talk about how
violence affects each member, the family itself, and their
neighborhood, and to discuss ways of responding in a non-violent manner.
So much violent behavior has its roots in the deterioration of family
life. Families that are experiencing domestic violence should search
out helping organizations to assist them in overcoming this burden.
Families can also use the evening dinner prayer or a prayer at other
times to pray for peace within the family and community, and within each
individual. Family life ministry can provide parenting education,
support groups, and marriage preparation programs that encourage
faithful, healthy and peaceful relationships. They also can offer media
literacy resources to help parents take back control of their own
Youth Ministry plays a unique role within the parish by providing
young people with a community of peers and adults who affirm, support
and challenge them. Youth programs can provide a safe and healthy place
where young people can gather rather than hanging out on the street
corner or at the local shopping mall. While some sports programs can
contribute to violent behavior, well directed athletic programs that
teach sportsmanship and promote cooperation can have a positive
influence on our young people. Retreats -- such a powerful experience
for teens -- can be developed around the theme of peacemaking and
conflict resolution. Parishes can offer leadership training programs to
develop positive life skills around Christian values. Music which
plays such a significant role in the life of youth, should be used as an
instrument to discuss peacemaking and non-violent behavior. Parish and
school youth programs can offer real alternatives to gang membership.
Outreach: Working with their local Catholic Charities agencies,
parishes can support and make use of shelters and hotlines for abused
family members providing financial support and volunteer assistance.
The remarkable response to our statement on violence against women When I Call For Help,
has yielded many models of education and outreach. Parish groups can
also organize recreational programs for at risk youth, child care and
emergency pregnancy centers and mentoring programs for youth and
Advocacy: Parish and diocesan representatives and other groups
can meet with media representatives to bring pressure against excessive
violence and pornography. Legislative networks can advocate for public
policies that prevent and combat crime, restrict dangerous weapons,
promote safe communities, eliminate the death penalty, and help lift
people out of the "hellish cycle of poverty" and confront the violence
Building Community: Parishes can participate in wider community
efforts to combat crime and work on local housing and education issues,
enact spousal abuse laws, create economic opportunities and viable
alternatives to violence. Supporting the Campaign for Human Development
and its funding of local self-help groups is an excellent way to help
build and empower communities in their battle against violence.
Global Solidarity: Through twinning relationships, through
support of Catholic Relief Services Operation Rice Bowl, and through
advocacy on United States international policies, parishes can work
against reliance on violence to resolve conflicts and for human rights
and sustainable development throughout the world.
African American and Hispanic Catholic Ministries: Continuing to
provide exceptional leadership, these ministries bring together diverse
groups across racial and ethnic lines to work against racism and
violence and provide opportunities for young people.
Dioceses can support the efforts of parishes by supporting and sharing
successful anti-violence models. We can also organize diocesan-wide
efforts such as visits to local media outlets, coordinated social
services, convocations and training. As Church, we must continue our
commitment to examine our own policies and practices to eliminate any
form of abuse within our own Church community wherever it may exist.
Diocesan leadership can help our local communities of faith come
together to resist violence and promote practical steps to make our
neighborhoods more just and more peaceful places. We can work with
other religious bodies and community groups to make common cause against
violence. Our struggle against violence will be an integral part of an
interfaith initiative, the Common Ground for the Common Good. Working
with other religious groups, we will seek to advance the common good by
overcoming the violence which hurts us all.
We recognize that this reflection is less an outline of solutions and
more a call to action. We believe the most effective response to this
problem is one that builds on the resources of the local community. To
promote and support these local efforts, the committees of our
Conference who have expressed a special interest in this initiative
(African American Catholics; Campaign for Human Development;
Communications; Domestic Social Policy; Education; Hispanic Affairs;
Laity; Marriage and Family Life; Pro-Life; Women in Society and in the
Church; and Youth) will continue to work together to collect effective
models and resources and make them available to parishes and dioceses.
We hope that Catholics and Catholic organizations at all levels will
join us and respond to this call. Each of us can make a difference.
For our part, the NCCB/USCC will in the weeks and months to come:
- gather and disseminate resources and models for parish and diocesan efforts.
- intensify our advocacy for national policies that address
violence, including strengthening families, violence in the media, the
availability of drugs and dangerous weapons, the violence of abortion
and the use of the death penalty, and other economic and social policies
that attack the root causes of violence.
We can demonstrate our common commitment in a visible way by focusing on
the moral and human costs of violence between January 15 and January
22. January 15 is the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a
powerful voice for nonviolence and peace. January 22 is the anniversary
of the Supreme Court decision legalizing the destruction of unborn
children, a terrible sign of the violence in our society. In the days
between these two anniversaries, we ask Catholic dioceses, parishes,
families, and organizations to join us in prayer, reflection and action
to confront the culture of violence in our midst. The theme of
peacemaking is especially appropriate at this time of year when
Christian churches pray and gather to reflect on the challenge of unity
within the Body of Christ and the human family.
Above all, we must come to understand that violence is unacceptable.
We must learn again the lesson of Pope Paul VI, "If you want peace, work
for justice." We oppose lawlessness of every kind. Society cannot
tolerate an ethic which uses violence to make a point, settle grievances
or get what we want. But the path to a more peaceful future is found
in a rediscovery of personal responsibility, respect for human life and
human dignity, and a recommitment to social justice. The best antidote
to violence is hope. People with a stake in society do not destroy
communities. Both individuals and institutions should be held
accountable for how they attack or enhance the common good. It is not
only the "down and out" who must be held accountable, but also the "rich
and famous." Our society needs both more personal responsibility and
broader social responsibility to overcome the plague of violence in our
land and the lack of peace in our hearts. Finally, we must realize that
peace is most fundamentally a gift from God. It is futile to suggest
that we can end all violence and bring about full peace merely by our
own efforts. This is why we urge the Catholic community to join all our
anti-violence efforts with constant and heartfelt prayer to Almighty
God through Jesus, the Prince of Peace.
We close these reflections with a word of support and appreciation for
those on the front lines -- parents, pastors, parish leaders, youth
workers, catechists and teachers, prison chaplains, men and women
religious. At a time when heroes seem scarce, these people are real
heroes and heroines, committing their lives to the service of others,
standing against a tide of violence with values of peace and a
commitment to justice. We commend peace officers who daily confront
violence with fairness and courage and we support those who minister to
them and their families. We also offer a word of encouragement to
parents who daily confront the cultural messages that influence their
children in a way that is so contradictory to basic values of decency,
honesty, respect for life and justice.
We believe silence and indifference are not options for a community of
faith in the midst of such pain, but we recognize words cannot halt
violence. We hope this message has helped to outline the moral
challenge, affirm the efforts already underway, share the framework we
have as Catholics and call our community to both conversion and action.
The nation has been transfixed by the terrible tragedy of the five year
old dropped to his death by two children in Chicago because he wouldn't
steal candy. We must get beyond our fear and frustration, our
indifference and ideological blinders, to hear to his Grandmother's cry
at his funeral: "We hope somebody, somewhere, somehow, will do
something about the conditions which are causing our children to kill
each other." We can be the "somebody." Now can be the time.
Let 1995 and the years which follow be a time when the Catholic
community brings new energy and creativity to the vocation of
peacemaking -- within our families, within our neighborhoods, within our
country and within the world community. Let us embrace the challenge
of John Paul II in his message to young people, when he calls them and
all of us, to be "communicators of hope and peace." Let us hear and act
with new urgency on the words of Jesus: "Blessed are the peacemakers;
they shall be called children of God."
1 Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders (Washington, D.C.), 1968.
2 Based on reports of the U.S. Department of Justice and Department of Commerce, 1993.
3 "Violence against Women," Journal of the American Medical Association, June 17, 1992.
4 The National Center for Health Statistics, unpublished data for 1991.
5 American Psychological Association, 1992.
6 Guttmacher Institute, "Facts in Brief - Abortion in the United States," August 1994.
7 The National Center for Health Statistics, unpublished data for 1991.
8 Pope John Paul II, "Address in Killineer, Ireland," September 1979.
9 Pope Paul VI, "Message of His Holiness Pope Paul VI for the Celebration of the [World] Day of Peace," January 1, 1972.
10 The Baltimore Sun, October 21, 1994.
11 Pope John Paul II, "Message to the Youth of the World on the Occasion of the IX and X World Youth Days," in Come Home to Christ: World Youth Day '94 Resource Manual (Washington, D.C.: United Sates Catholic Conference Publishing Services, 1994), p.8; cf. Matthew 5:9.